First mayoral debate mostly agreeable

Inside the WBZ-TV studios on Tuesday night, it was Dorchester vs. West Roxbury as State Rep. Marty Walsh and City Councillor At-Large John Connolly faced off in the general mayoral election’s first televised debate. On a night when most Bostonians’ eyes and ears were locked on the Red Sox-Tigers playoff game, the faceoff was marked for the most part by a series of skirmishes between two candidates who largely agreed with each other.

“I pretty much feel the same way,” Walsh said, referring to Connolly’s answer to a question on contraceptive distribution and how important sex and health education is in schools. The statement also more or less summed up the 60-minute debate, which was co-hosted by WBZ and the Boston Globe.

The discussion opened with introductions – Connolly, an attorney who has spent six years on the City Council, said he is a former teacher and Walsh, a longtime labor leader and state lawmaker, noted his successful battle against childhood cancer and overcoming alcoholism – after which the candidates sparred until Connolly briefly took off the gloves, raising concerns about the money pouring in from union groups in support of Walsh.

“I’m just concerned that when your campaign is taking over a million dollars in outside money and when you also work in two roles for these unions, that that will influence what you do when you’re mayor,” said the councillor, who has to a much lesser extent taken in outside money from an education reform group.

Walsh chose not to respond. “I have no comment,” he said. Speaking with reporters after the debate, Walsh said he and Connolly had come to the end of a discussion on a bill that would have removed the City Council from the arbitration process. He wanted to move on, he said.
Walsh was pressed to enumerate the differences between him and Connolly. “I mean, the difference is I grew up in Dorchester, I’ve had struggles in my life, I’ve overcome challenges, everything I had I’ve watched my mother and father work extremely hard for it.”

Connolly was also asked spell out the differences. “I can really only speak to what I think will make me a good mayor: My experience in the classroom, working with children who face that achievement gap, raising three children in this city and having worked with the Menino administration on balancing six budgets,” he said.

Surrounded by reporters, Walsh stood with John Barros, a former rival and School Committee member who endorsed him last week, while Connolly had with him former State Treasurer Shannon O’Brien and several ministers, including Pastor Bruce Wall.

During the debate, both candidates were asked to explain how they were different from, and similar to, outgoing Mayor Thomas Menino, who remains popular among voters.

Walsh said he was accessible. “Tom Menino has the pulse of the city and one of the things I want to do is make sure that we’re able to continue in what he does, and I will keep that schedule, working in every neighborhood in the city, so that people have access to me, so I can learn the ideas.” Walsh added that his style would be different, giving more freedom to his cabinet and allowing for more transparency.
Connolly, who had jumped into the race before the mayor announced he would be running again, called Menino “the mayor of the neighborhoods and he lived in them 24/7.” Connolly said he learned from that.
“You’ve got to be out there in the neighborhoods, talking to people, to understand what’s going on, what the challenges people facing are.” He also plans to be aggressive and bold on changing the school system, he added.

The next televised debates between the two candidates are set for next Tuesday (Oct. 22), hosted by WGBH, and the following Tuesday (Oct. 29), which is being organized by a TV and radio station consortium. Both events are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.